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Relief at the pump

Marie Havenga • Jul 21, 2015 at 11:47 AM

And that's a welcome sight for local motorists who were paying an average of 25 cents more per gallon a week ago.

Muskegon resident Samantha Stafford filled up her car at the Spring Lake Wesco Tuesday afternoon for $3.47 a gallon.

“It's usually 7 cents a gallon cheaper here,” Stafford said. “It's definitely nice to see the price down. We can always use the extra cash.”

GasBuddy.com senior petroleum analyst Patrick DeHaan knows the local fuel scene. DeHaan works in Chicago but lives in Grand Rapids and frequents his parents' Lake Michigan cottage in Norton Shores.

GasBuddy tracks fuel prices across the nation and publishes them at GasBuddy.com to help motorists find the lowest priced stations in their area.

Tuesday's lowest price in Grand Haven, Spring Lake and Ferrysburg was $3.47 a gallon — 17 cents cheaper than the national average, DeHaan said. He noted that spread is typical.

“There's a Citgo gasoline terminal (in Ferrysburg) there and the trucks don't have far to travel, so that can be a competitive factor,” he said. “And the Admiral station on U.S. 31 south of Grand Haven can become very competitive at times.”

DeHaan said it's not uncommon to find “pockets within a region that tend to become very low” when looking at Spring Lake having lower prices than surrounding communities.

DeHaan noted the recent price drop is due to supply and demand, and winter fuel mixtures aren’t as expensive to produce.

Despite social media speculation that the upcoming presidential election is playing pump prices, DeHaan said it's strictly seasonal variations tinkering with prices.

“As the cooler weather moves in, there are fewer boats on Lake Michigan and less gas is being consumed,” DeHaan said. “People aren't getting out their Jet Skis. They're not driving to their cottage. This happens across the nation. People aren't getting out as much so they're consuming less. The drop in demand spurs prices lower.”

DeHaan said if people want a reason for less pain at the pump, they could look no further than Grand Haven State Park.

“If you go to the Grand Haven State Park in the summer, you have to drive around looking for parking,” he said. “When everyone is not going to the beach and that trend is repeated over the entire north country, that's a significant drop in demand.”

According to DeHaan, local prices are falling faster than national averages, although they were a nickel above West Michigan averages on Tuesday.

“There's a lot of intense competition in the Great Lakes,” he said, noting that one gas station chain helps keep prices low. He wouldn’t name the particular company.

“A large chain of stations puts tremendous downward pressure on prices,” DeHaan said. “They've exhibited this pricing behavior over the years in the Great Lakes region.”

There's also a difference in seasonal fuel ingredients. The federal government requires cleaner fuel production in the summer to protect the environment.

“In the winter, cooler weather doesn't aggravate the atmosphere,” DeHaan said. “You can burn something not as clean, and it's cheaper.”

Spring Lake resident Velvet LaBudie said she breathed a sigh of relief when she saw the $3.47 per gallon price Tuesday.

“I feel much better about filling up,” she said, pumping gas as rain dripped from the Wesco overhang. “I just wonder how long it's going to last.”

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